Which platform to choose for your online store is one of the biggest and most important decisions you will make as an ecommerce entrepreneur. The choice isn’t easy, because no one solution is perfect for every store owner. Let’s see how two of the most popular options compare.
Let The Battle Commence!
Imagine for a moment that the various ecommerce platforms are gladiators competing against each other to represent you, the king or queen of your domain, in your quest to dominate your market niche.
In battle, both are pretty evenly matched, but they both excel in different ways. Magento is a war-hardened warrior, armoured up in a solid suit of steel and boasting an impressive array of weaponry. He is reliable and proven in battle, but rather slow moving. Shopify is the young upstart, quick and nimble on her feet, dodging serious blows by ducking and diving, but perhaps lacking the experience and breadth of abilities to win outright.
Now you could let the two continue to battle it out to the death, but a wise monarch might decide that there’s a better way. Maybe it would be more constructive to judge both options depending on what you actually need for your online store. As your wise counsellor, I can suggest three essential questions to ask yourself which will help you make the right choice for your new online store.
Would you prefer a hosted or self-hosted option?
Shopify takes care of hosting for you, making it much easier to get started. Magento has three options, only one of which is self-hosted. Their Enterprise Edition, whilst ideal for big brands like Nike, is well beyond the budget of small business owners at $15,550 a year.
Magento also offers a free, open source Community Edition aimed at Developers who are happy to create their store from scratch, but as you’re reading this article, we’re going to assume that you’re only starting out with your ecommerce empire and therefore (a) you’re not an experienced developer, and (b) you’re keen to get going and make money as soon as possible.
For that reason, we’re going to focus our comparison on Magento Go, their self-hosted option for small businesses. Why do we recommend the self-hosted option? Because it means you save a lot of time and energy which would otherwise be spent keeping your site secure and up to date. Hosting your own online store can take up a lot of time and it is also a steep learning curve for non-developers, with each new update often causing problems with your theme and other settings.
How much time do you want to spend getting your online store up and running?
Both Shopify and Magento Go are completely web-based, meaning anyone who can find their way around the backend of a WordPress blog can have a basic store set up within a few hours.
Signing in and adding your first product on Shopify can be done in as little as 15 minutes – it’s that easy and intuitive to use and you’ll feel like your store is taking shape from the word go – a blog is even automatically included, though you will need to add your own custom url.
Magento is a little confusing for someone who isn’t familiar with their interface. The design of the backend feels dated and overly complicated compared to Shopify, though the storefront themes look fine.
With Magento Go, you’ll probably need to dive into the tutorials section in order to get yourself started, but once you do, updates don’t take too long, and it’s only fair to point out however that Magento Go offers more customization options overall. It’s much easier for example, to integrate your Magento Go store with eBay, perhaps unsurprisingly as the ecommerce giant bought Magento in 2011.
How much are you willing to pay?
Shopify have five pricing plans, starting at $14 per month for a starter plan with only 25 products, or $19 for 100 products. Both of those plans includes unlimited bandwidth and 1GB of storage, but Shopify also take a 2% transaction fee.
Magento Go also have five pricing options to choose from. Unlike Shopify, they don’t charge any transaction fees, and pricing starts at $15 per month for 100 products. You will want to be aware however that on their most basic plan, bandwidth is limited to 4GB per month and there is also a storage limit of 200MB. This means you run the risk of being charged for exceeding your limits ($10 for every 100MB of additional storage or Gigabyte of bandwidth). Of course you can choose to pay more from the outset if this is a concern.
The fact that Magento Go doesn’t take a transaction fee probably gives them the edge in terms of value here, especially because in order to add certain features to Shopify you will need to pay for additional plugins, whereas Magento Go has more options built in. Beware though of those additional costs, as it’s difficult to predict bandwidth use in advance.
It’s clear then, that Shopify is an easier, quicker way to get started for the ecommerce entrepreneur. Depending on what your plans are for your store are though, it may end up being costlier in the long run thanks to transaction fees and the likelihood you will need to buy additional plugins as your store expands.
If you’re familiar with email marketing providers, the difference between Magento and Shopify are similar to those between AWeber and MailChimp. MailChimp’s interface is much friendlier and easier to get to grips with, but AWeber probably has more options in the long term for serious marketers.
Similarly, Magento Go users have more options built in to their store and the ability to upgrade to another version of Magento in future, whilst Shopify users will likely need to pay out extra for plugins from the app store to upgrade their site and may become frustrated by the platform’s limits. Having said that, both Shopify and Magento do provide ways to migrate your data should you wish to switch in future.
Trial By Fire
You probably have a good idea which option you’d prefer already, but don’t panic if you’re still unsure. The good news is that both Shopify and Magento Go offer a free trial without the need to provide payment details, so you can try them both out for a short period of time and see which you prefer.
Bear in mind though that Magento Go offers a 30 day trial whilst Shopify only offers 14 days, so make sure you set aside some time before signing up as you’ll want to really put both through their paces before naming a winner.
Have you tried Shopify or Magento Go, or both? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.